After a decade of working in dramatic television as a writer/producer on movies-of-the week and shows like Cagney and Lacey
, I was determined to go back to my roots in prose and write a novel. It took five years to write North of Montana
, the first Special Agent Ana Grey Mystery, but the manuscript sold, quickly and happily, to Alfred A. Knopf, who sent me on my first book tour; a whirlwind eight-day opportunity to sell myself as novelist and never take notes from a TV network executive again.
That was the plan.
It was a good plan.
I was invited to read in Rizzoli bookstore in Santa Monica, one of those beautiful relics of the early nineties ? softly lit, walnut-paneled, with evocative nooks and crannies and a deep, satisfying selection of the offbeat, the intellectual and classic. The proprietors had generously provided a fruit and cheese spread, including wine.
The perfect setting for my worst nightmare.
I had always known, and feared, the worst thing that could happen on a book tour ? that someone would approach with a script they wanted me to read, produce, and put on television. Even more horrific would be an alcohol-impaired person with a script. And here he came. Imagine a caricature of an alcohol-impaired person, as has not been seen in public since Dudley Moore in Arthur, attracted by the free Chardonnay, holding a script.
He was well-dressed and relentless. I used my best lines, including: "My attorney won't let me read anything unsolicited because of the danger of lawsuits." To which he replied, "Steal it, what the hell do I care?" and continued to follow me around the store. He was certain that I, the writer of an FBI thriller, would be keenly interested in his screenplay because, he said, it was about a woman poet who had lived in ancient Greece. Suddenly everybody in the store was terribly busy. Nobody helped, nobody intervened. My publicist had another engagement that night, and the store manager seemed preoccupied with the slowly melting Brie. (Like I said, it was the nineties.) I finally relented, took the script in hand (never looked at it), and went up to the podium.
Where there was another surprise.
An extravagant arrangement of fresh flowers, sent by a wanna-be boyfriend who had apparently been reading the "Author Appearances" column for the past twenty-five years, and tracked me down with the intention (so I gathered from the sleazy note) of resuming a hopeless and embarrassing pursuit that had apparently not ended since high school.
Shaking off a flood of paralyzing memories, I faced my audience of nine. But here was some good news that would make the long trek from television worthwhile. Sitting in the front row was an attractive couple in their twenties. They were cool, they were dressed in black, and they were smiling at me. So I read my heart out for them. My readers! And they kept on smiling, meeting my eyes with rapt attention.
When it was over, the young man and woman dressed in black came up to have their copy of North of Montana signed.
"Who would you like me to sign it to?" I asked.
By their shy and hesitant replies, it became clear.
They were tourists from Italy. And they didn't understand a word of English.